Ancient oceanic life forms called dinoflagellates have swarmed the waters of Sydney, as seen here at Clovelly beach. The beaches were closed because, although non-toxic, these algae can cause skin irritation. But as this mother and child contemplate the red sea, what images float to mind?
It is hard not to imagine portentous meanings in what is really a natural occurrence. As an uneasy peace was declared in Gaza, as the streets of Egypt shook again, as the fiscal cliff got closer, this gory blossoming of the sea confronted beachgoers with a vivid warning. What new horror is coming? Is it the End?
It was at this time of year in 1994 that Dennis Potter, then dying of cancer, gave a celebrated interview with Melvyn Bragg published under the title Seeing the Blossom. He spoke of how the imminence of death gave his experience of the world a heightened intensity. “At this season, the blossom is out in full now … and instead of saying ‘Oh that’s nice blossom’ … last week looking at it through the window when I’m writing, I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it. The nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous, and if people could see that, you know. There’s no way of telling you; you have to experience it, but the glory of it, if you like, the comfort of it, the reassurance. Not that I’m interested in reassuring people – bugger that. The fact is, if you see the present tense, boy do you see it! And boy can you celebrate it.” It is impossible not to notice that, this week, the blossom is out again.
Last month, on the other side of the Atlantic, the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell’s operation caused from 1m to 2m gallons of oil to spill into the ocean off the coast of Nigeria, also as the result of an industrial accident. It was the worst spill in Nigeria in 13 years in a part of that country where the oil and gas industry has been despoiling the environment for more than 50 years, on a scale that dwarfs the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico by a wide margin. Shell claims it has completely cleaned up the mess, but villages counterclaim the oil has been washing up on their coastline. The world’s media seems to be uninterested in checking the facts.